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Cultural connection
From cuisine to costumes, the Savannah Asian Festival brings the East to the South
Philippine dance

 You want an order of culture with that?

For most of its 14 years, the main draw at the Savannah Asian Festival has been the food. It’s like a walking delicacy tour, a cuisine-a-thon, a trip to Epcot without the miserable parking and the insufferable Disney-cute marketing.

The 14th annual festival, taking place June 6 in the big room of the Savannah Civic Center, gives you the opportunity to taste – for a fee, mind you – khao pad from Thailand, tandoori chicken from India, Japanese sushi, Middle Eastern baba ghannouj or Philippine sotanghon. Or something made from squid tentacles, if that’s your thing.

That’s really just to get you in the door.

“I think the food initially draws people, but many of them aren’t aware of the vastness of Asian culture,” says Eileen Baker, director of the City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs. “In the United States, food is something that most everyone does understand.”

Come for the food, stay for the entertainment. The color and pageantry of more than a dozen countries will be paraded across the stage for your enjoyment, education and edification. These include:

The Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. They’re at the Telfair Museum all week - be sure to tip your waitress - creating the intricate sand mandala for which they’re famous. The monks are detouring over to the MLK Arena Saturday to open the proceedings with their “Black Hat Dance,” and another Tibetan Buddhist dance later in the day. Then it’s back to the Telfair to continue work on the mandala, which will be ceremoniously destroyed Sunday afternoon and dumped in the Savannah River.

Matsuriza Taiko Drummers. This Orlando-based troupe practices the Japanese art of ensemble drumming (“taiko” means, literally, “drum”). The drums are made in different sizes, shapes and pitches, and when combined with dancing, costumes and the tuneage of other Japanese musical instruments (such as bamboo flutes) the effect is truly impressive.

Chien Hong School of Kung Fu Lion Dancers. From Atlanta, the “martial arts performing group” has been doing the Lion Dance since 1995, making it the oldest continuously performing group in the Central Georgia region. Not to be confused with the Chinese Dragon Dance, this colorful becostumed spectacle celebrates the lion as “protection” for the people; it’s also a symbol of health, prosperity, good luck and blessings.

“We try to bring representation from as many countries as we can,” says Baker. “There is a small group of local Savannah Asians who help to find entertainers they’re interested in presenting, as well as some of their local groups.”

Of course, there’ll be a considerable marketplace with crafts, fine art, clothing and the like from all regions of the East. And educational workshops in Chinese painting, the traditional Pakistani tea ceremony and more.

Baker, who’s entering her 12th year as festival director, says the event has grown considerably. In 1997, there were about 300 visitors; she’s expecting 10,000 visitors this time around.

“Also, it’s in June,” she says. “So we have many tourists that come to it, as well as young people who are out of school and are looking for something to do on a Saturday.”

Savannah Asian Festival

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Arena, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Ogelthorpe Ave.

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, June 6

Admission: Free

Phone: (912) 651-6417



Performance schedule

11 a.m.: Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery (India)
11:15 a.m. Opening Ceremony and Parade of Flags
11:50 a.m. Martials Arts by Lee’s TaeKwando (Korea)
12:15 p.m. India Association of Savannah Dancers
12:35 p.m. Matsuriza Taiko Drummers (Japan)
1 p.m. Sampaguita Dance Troupe (Philippines)
1:25 p.m. Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery
1:50 p.m. Children of Polynesia Dance Troupe
2:15 p.m. Chien Hong School of Kung Fu Lion Dancers (China)
2:40 p.m. Sangaar Lestari Indonesia Performing Group
3:05 p.m. Matsuriza Taiko Drummers (Japan)
3:30 p.m. Thailand Dance Group
3:55 p.m. Closing remarks & thanks


1 p.m. Chinese Painting with Ching Levy
2 p.m. Asian Diaspora in Pictures and Poetics by the Asian-American Artists’ Initiative
3 p.m. Pakstani Tea Presentation and Tasting by the Islamic Center of Savannah